In this photo provided by the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District, firefighters are seen at the scene of a fatal crash involving a Tesla and Contra Costa County Fire Truck on February 18, 2023 in Contra Costa, California.
Contra Costa County Fire Protection District
Federal motor vehicle safety authorities have launched a new special investigation into a fatal crash involving a Tesla A Model S sedan and a fire truck in Walnut Creek, Calif., last month, CNBC confirmed.
The driver of the Tesla was killed, a passenger was seriously injured and four firefighters in the fire truck were taken to the hospital after the crash, according to records obtained by CNBC from the California Highway Patrol and Contra Costa County Fire Department.
The Associated Press first reported the special investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
According to fire department records after the Feb. 18 incident, the fire truck was parked in the middle of the interstate to protect other first responders who were towing the disabled vehicle out of the area when the Tesla hit it.
NHTSA and CHP have launched separate investigations into the crash.
The CHP wrote in a statement after the fatal crash: “It is unclear if the influence of drugs or alcohol was a factor in this crash. It could not be determined at the scene whether the Tesla was operating with any driver assistance or activated automation at the time of the crash.”
Both the CHP and NHTSA want to know whether Tesla’s driver assistance systems, which are sold in the United States as Autopilot and fully autonomous driving options, caused the crash.
All new Tesla vehicles in the US come with a standard driver assistance package called Autopilot. Customers who pay Tesla a monthly subscription fee of $199 or $15,000 can also get additional driver assistance features as part of a premium package called FSD, which stands for Full Self-Driving. Tesla allows FSD customers to also sign up for FSD Beta, which is a way to test new features that haven’t been fully debugged on public roads.
Despite the brand names, Tesla does not make a self-driving car or system. The company warns drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to take control or brake at any moment.
The new special crash investigation is part of a broader NHTSA investigation into Tesla’s driver assistance systems and how they work in parked, fast-reacting vehicles.
According to records on the agency’s website, NHTSA opened a “preliminary evaluation” of Tesla’s Autopilot systems on August 13, 2021. roads or roadside emergency vehicles tending to pre-existing collision scenes.”
According to the NHTSA report, at least 14 Teslas crashed into emergency vehicles while using the Autopilot system.
In the spring of 2022, NHTSA expanded its investigation to an “engineering analysis” to determine whether Tesla’s systems could “exacerbate human factors or behavioral safety risks by undermining the effectiveness of driver supervision.”
In layman’s terms, NHTSA is trying to figure out whether Tesla’s Autopilot, FSD, and other driver assistance features are causing drivers to take their eyes off the road so much that they would be driving safer without them.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. NHTSA does not comment on open investigations.